COVID-19 and Sex Work

There are many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, which makes harm reduction work challenging. How do we make informed decisions about our bodies when we don’t have enough information to properly inform ourselves? With the information currently available to us, Health Initiative for Men encourages you to follow prevention strategies (ex. physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning practices) listed by the Canadian government; however, we also recognize that because of a lack of relief funding and resources for sex workers provincally and federally, sex workers will continue to see clients in-person during this time. The following resource contains some safety tips to reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. We encourage you to use the information and medical resources available to you to strategize other prevention methods.

The following resource has been adapted from a guide developed by the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health for sex workers:

 

Risks of COVID-19 related to Sex Work

COVID-19 has been found in saliva or respiratory fluids, semen, urine, and feces.  Close proximity to other people (standing within 2m of another person) and contact with bodily fluids may carry a high risk of transmission, and may impact the ability of sex workers to do in-person work.

At the time of writing this (May 2020), there have been no recorded cases of transmission occurring from semen, urine, and feces, and COVID-19 has also yet to be found in fronthole fluids. We recognize that more research may be conducted and more information may be released in the future.

 

Tips While Working

  • If possible, avoid in-person work and handling cash. 
  • Do not work if you have flu-like symptoms, for example, cough, sneezing, fever, sore throat, difficulty breathing. If you are in need of emergency funding because you are unable to work, consider applying to PACE Society’s or Peers Victoria Resource Society’s relief funds. Or apply to CERB. For support applying to relief funding, please contact HUSTLE Service Providers
  • Avoid positions with lots of face-to-face contact (ex. missionary position).
  • Consider offering services with low face-to-face contact like erotic massage and strip-tease. 
  • Use condoms (internal or external), dental dams, and gloves to avoid contact with bodily fluids. 
  • Wash your hands regularly with plain soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. Antibacterial soap is not required.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cough into your elbow or cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when you sneeze. Immediately dispose of all used tissues in an appropriate waste bin and wash your hands right away. 
  • Do not share food, drinks, unwashed utensils, cigarettes, poppers, unwashed sex toys, straws, vaping devices, joints, pipes, or bongs. 
  • Incorporate masks into play. Medical masks, pup play masks, or gimp masks may offer some protection; however, this is not guaranteed and levels of protection depends on the material and construction of the mask. Pay attention to eye, mouth, and nose holes that allow droplets to pass into the air. And consider your level of risk if your eyes are covered.

 

After a Date...

  • Wash your hands with plain soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. Antibacterial soap is not required. 
  • If facilities are available, take a shower.
  • Clean and disinfect anything that came in contact with you, client(s), scene partner(s), or anyone else who is sharing space with you. Bed sheets, matresses, chairs, sex toys, lube bottles, clothing, harnesses, towels, bathroom sinks, door knobs, light switches, massage tables, nightstands, and fetish equiptment and furniture are items you may have to consider cleaning. See the section below for detailed instructions on how to clean sex toys.
  • Wash and dry sheets and towels in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest possible water settings. Dry all items thoroughly.

 

Washing Sex Toys

COVID-19 can temporarily survive outside of the body, so objects that come in contact with salvia, semen, and/or fecal matter may transmit COVID-19. All sex toys should be sterilized before sharing.

 

  • Clean and sterilize toys before and after use.
  • Sex toys can be sterilized by submerging them in boiling water* or by washing with plain soap in warm water. See the chart below to see which option is safe for your toy. You may also consult the manufacturer’s instructions for more detailed cleaning protocols.
Silicone Stainless Steel Glass ABS (hard) plastics Motorized toys (ex. vibrators) Rubber, “softskin,” and “jelly”
Boiling*  X X X
Soap and Water  X

* There are no studies yet on COVID-19’s resistance to high temperatures; however, studies of SARS-CoV (another type of coronavirus) demonstrate that the virus becomes inactive at temperatures of 65°C or greater. You may wash with soap and boil your sex toys (if it is safe for your toy).

  • Rubber, “cyberskin” or “softskin,” and “jelly” toys are porous, which means they can trap bacteria and are unable to be completely sterilized. 
  • Sex toys can be covered with a condom to reduce contact with the toy, but should always be cleaned and disinfected after the date.
  • Allow all toys to dry completely before being stored.
  • For furniture and household surfaces, cleaning products and disinfectants that are regularly used in households are strong enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. Follow product instructions for dilution, contact time and safe use here.

 

STI Testing

As a result of COVID-19 many clinics and medical services have reduced their hours and in-person availability. If you are a sex worker in need of support while booking STI testing appointments, accessing PrEP, or other sexual health services, please contact HUSTLE Service Coordinators, Marlena (Greater Vancouver) and Jonathan (Greater Victoria).

HUSTLE @ HIM (Greater Vancouver Area)

  • 604-369-9704 (call/text) 
  • marlena@chechimout.ca

HUSTLE @ Peers (Greater Victoria Area)

  • 236-638-3340 (call/text) 
  • jonathan@checkhimout.ca
    • For up-to-date information on Health Initiative for Men’s Health Centre locations and STI testing services, please check out HIM’s COVID-19 response page
    • Get Checked Online is an online service that allows you to print a lab form at home and to access STI testing at participating Life Lab locations. 
    • For STI testing resources in the Greater Victoria Area, please check out Smart Sex Resource

 

Online Dates

Online sex work comes with its own set of challenges and risks, including privacy concerns and doxxing, and developing a new client-base on an unfimilar platform. 

For how-to tips and online occupational health and safety, please check out COYOTE Ri’s harm reduction guide for sex workers.

 

Suggestions for Clients

  • Stay home if you have symptoms, have had contact with individuals who are confirmed cases of COVID-19, or have travelled within the last 14 days and do not engage in in-person sexual activities. 
  • Wash your hands and face before and after a date, and after handling cash. 
  • Consider web-based sessions (ex. video chat, phone sex, trading photos) instead of in-person sessions. 

Tip generously or consider donating to PACE and Peers relief funds.

 

HIM Sex Work Supports

For individualized support, please contact HUSTLE Service Coordinators.

HUSTLE @ HIM (Greater Vancouver Area)

  • 604-369-9704 (call/text) 
  • marlena@chechimout.ca

HUSTLE @ Peers (Greater Victoria Area)

  • 236-638-3340 (call/text) 
  • jonathan@checkhimout.ca

The Corner Drop-In: Regular drop-in programming at the Corner has been suspended until further notice. The Corner remains open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 7-9pm for food pick-up and grocery nights only. For more information on the Corner, please contact Marlena at 604-369-9704 or marlena@checkhimout.ca 

For safer sex (condoms, lube) and safer substance use (smoking, snorting, and IV kits) supplies pick-up in the Fraser Health Region, please contact Marlena. For supply pick-up in downtown Vancouver, please contact Spence at 778-877-2841. And for supply pick-up in the Greater Victoria area, please contact Jonathan by text at 236-638-3340. Please include a list of supplies you need and when you need them.